The pros and cons of different sites
Pruning and tree care
Which varieties to plant
What to watch out for during the growing season
When to harvest and how to store the fruit
Orchard hygiene and its effect on fruit quality and general tree health
Orchard work calendar
Other fruity subjects
Follow this link to our main website if you are interested in ordering quality fruit trees.
The pros and cons of different sites
Fruit trees in containers
From the point of view of controlling bird damage, you are far better off growing a cherry tree in a container. The tree will stay relatively small and is therefore easier to cover with a net, to stop the birds eating your cherries. Mind you, the size of the container is crucial. It needs to be at least 50 cm across and 45 cm deep. This container needs to be filled with the best top soil available. In the bottom of the container you need to have a couple of 2.5 cm sized drainage holes, which need to be covered with broken terra cotta pots to stop the holes silting up.
As cherries themselves are 90 percent water, you must make sure the trees never dry out! Water the trees at least twice a week with 5 litres of water each during the growing season. When very hot and dry, 10 litres of water each. Feed the trees with “Growmore” and follow instructions on the packet. Pruning is best carried out when harvesting is completed. This to avoid the pruning wounds becoming infected by the spores of different fungi such as “Silver leaf,” and not to forget the disease called Bacterial Canker.
And where do you get the tree? Here, of course!
Preparations for planting
Fruit trees will look after themselves if you do the following things.
So you’ve decided that you’re going to plant some fruit trees, you’ve placed the order, and you know that you’ll receive the trees some time from November to April, the ideal planting time when the trees are dormant. Now is the case to prepare the planting site!
Check the pH of the soil. It should be between 6.3 and 6.6. Garden centres stock inexpensive pH meters.
Set out the planting positions, with tall bamboo canes, well before the trees arrive. Remove one square metre of grass sward for each tree position and remove this grass totally from the planting position. The reason is that the grass roots compete fiercely with the tree, and tend to stop the tree from establishing itself on the new site. Newly planted trees and grass are BAD companions!
Grass roots are very bad for the trees in the early years, when the trees need all the water available. Break up the topsoil and loosen the subsoil over 1 square metre for each tree. This is very important as tree roots hate stagnant water during the winter months. Keep the soil of the tree positions free from weeds for the rest of the season and for two years after that. The planting hole needs to be at least 1’6” in diameter and approximately 6” deep. Only put the best top soil on top of the roots. No subsoil. Loosen the subsoil with a rigid tine fork, before you plant the tree.
While the soil is reasonably dry, this is the best time to put the stakes in place near the planting positions. Set a stake upright in the middle of each 1 square metre. The stake needs to be 2” in diameter, 1’6” in the ground and 4’6” feet above the ground. Total length 6 feet.
If you think that you won’t be able to plant the trees straight away when they arrive, you’ll have to heel them into a shallow trench 8 inches deep and 6 inches wide.
Good drainage is absolutely essential for the trees to thrive. If drainage is suspect on your site, the trees will have to be planted on a mound. The height of the mound needs to be at least 10 inches above soil level and 3 foot wide in diameter. Only use the best topsoil to construct the mound.
Planting your trees
If you cannot plant straight away, on arrival, do not let the roots dry out. Heel the trees into the soil, in a shallow trench 8” deep and 6” wide, for the time being. Protect the trees from rabbit damage. Do not plant when the soil is frozen. Instead keep the trees in a cold, but frost-free shed or building. Open the top of the package on arrival to ensure fresh air for the trees. Dampen the roots after 10 days. Before you plant the trees, I recommend putting the roots in a bucket of water for 6 to 8 hours. This will invigorate root growth and restore the moisture content of the feeding roots. The pH of the soil needs to be between 6.3 and 6.6. Garden centres stock inexpensive pH meters.
When you plant the trees during November/April period, when the trees are dormant, plant them at the same depth as they were in the nursery. You will see the soil marks on the trees. Keep the union well above soil level, around 2 inches. Cover the tree roots with a 50/50 mixture of good quality multi purpose compost and the soil from the planting hole. Do not put any fertiliser in the planting hole. Firm the soil well, but do not stamp it tight. Tree roots need air as well as water. Plant the tree 3” away from the stake. Tie the tree to the stake with an adjustable tie. Please do not forget to adjust the tie each year, as the tree stem gets thicker. Do not strangle your tree.
Cover the entire square metre with 4” deep mulch of well-rotted garden compost or old matured farm yard manure. It is very important that as the trees begin to grow, you keep the area free from grass and weeds. A soil membrane which lets through the rain, but stops the weeds and grass developing around the trunk of the tree, is a real help and a labour-saving investment. If you don’t bother to do this, the goodness goes to the weeds and not to the trees. Put a tall enough spiral guard around each tree trunk to avoid hare/rabbit damage. Adjust the guards every 6 months. If the guard is too tight, it offfers a shelter for pests and disease to develop. Special guards are needed if livestock has access to the tree crown.
To stop deer having a go at the young foliage, hang on an S hook a piece of strong smelling soap, on each tree and replace it as soon as the scent has worn off. Replace the soap every 3 weeks. A 1” square piece is large enough.
During dry periods, during the growing season, please make sure that the trees get extra water. Two full watering cans a week will keep them going. At all times ensure the ground is moist. Water is the life blood of the tree!!
Tree roots need lots of oxygen. This is often forgotten and applies at any time of the year. Tree roots standing in water literally suffocate. If the problem is not solved, it will cause the tree to die. IF DRAINAGE IS SUSPECT, ALWAYS PLANT YOUR FRUIT TREES ON A MOUND. The height of the mound needs to be at least 10 inches above soil level and 3 foot wide in diameter. Only use the best topsoil to construct the mound. Trees that become flooded during the spring/summer time, when the tree is full of foliage, are particularly sensitive.
Good drainage is therefore absolutely essential for the trees to thrive. You will soon know there is something wrong if the foliage colour changes from a healthy green to various shades of brown and red, during the growing season.
Finally, never allow the tree mulch to touch the stem. Keep a 4” ring clear around the trunk. This is advisable as mice and voles love to eat the bark and young developing feeding roots around the trunk of the tree. If the trees grow well, do not prune until you have picked the first crop of fruits. For the first season, restrict the crop to 4 fruits/tree only.
Time to plant for best results
A good crop on a well-tended apple tree
There is a lot of confusion around the topic about which is the best time to plant. Many people believe that March to May is the best time to plant. In fact in most cases it is the opposite! By far the best time to plant trees is in the period from early December to the middle of March. And in that period it is most important to choose the right moment to plant, soil wise and weather wise. It is a mistake to delay the planting to the last moment. The weather is very variable and unpredictable. The best way of doing it is to have the trees on site, from early January onwards. When you receive the trees, heel them in, near the house, in a trench 8 inches wide and 8 inches deep, cover the roots totally with soil, and leave them until that moment when weather and time are opportune for planting. These moments of ideal planting conditions may only last for a day. If the trees are on the site one can make use of these ideal opportunities, which occur spasmodically during the winter months.
Now, why is it so important to plant early? It is a mistake to think that when the trees are put in the soil they start to grow from that moment. Trees need time to adjust and closely associate with the soil, in order to rebuild the micro-feeding roots. This process can take as much as from 3 weeks to a month, depending on soil temperature. Without these roots being functional, the trees are totally dependent on the reserves stored in the thicker roots and in the woody parts of the tree above ground. Once those reserved are used up, the tree, if not planted early enough, starves, and will look miserable for the rest of the season.
Finally, don’t put big lumps of soil on top of the tree roots. Micro roots cannot grow in this. Instead, visit your garden centre, and buy some of the best tree planting compost such as John Innes compost number three. Cover all the roots with it, move the tree gently up and down to enable the crumbly soil to filter in between the roots, then secure the tree to the stake or the wire or the fence and make sure the union of the tree is 5 cm above the soil. Apply a mulch around the tree and water weekly with 5 litres of water once growth has begun around April time.
If you are looking for the page at which you can view available tree varieties, place a provisional order and provide further information on your tree requirements and planting site, just follow this link.
Top ten tips for transplanting fruit trees
THIS TIME OF THE YEAR, WHEN FRUIT TREES ARRIVE FOR PLANTING IN YOUR GARDEN OR FOR STARTING YOUR MULTI FRUIT ORCHARD, THE NORMAL AND BEST THING TO DO IS TO HEEL THE TREES IN.
Dig a trench of a couple of feet long, 8” wide and 6” deep, cover the roots completely with damp crumbly soil, and your trees will be very happy to sit in that trench, until you are ready to take them out of the trench and putting them in their permanent planting position.
That means giving yourself plenty of time to plant the trees, when you have got the time to do a good job and the weather is cooperating, for you to pay attention to the details of planting. Never forget that the soil is the tree’s permanent home. The better the soil is prepared for the transplanting operation, the better the tree will grow. Its food and its drink come via the soil. Transplanting for a fruit tree is the same level of stress as is the upheaval of moving house for us humans.
The main points of successful transplanting fruit trees are:
1) don’t plant fruit trees in the shade,
2) don’t plant fruit trees on top of other roots of living trees,
3) Plant fruit trees in a crumbly soil, which is essential for new roots to be able to access the soil’s nutritional store house of goodies.
4) Don’t plant fruit trees in water or a waterlogged soil. The tree will suffocate as it cannot get hold of the essential oxygen for the roots to live and work properly.
5) Before you put the tree in the ground, knock in a good quality, six foot stake, so that the tree can become established well.
6) Take your wheel barrow and, in the wheelbarrow, mix your best topsoil with John Innes compost number 3 at a 50/50 ratio.
7) Put that wonderful mixture on top of the roots , move the tree up and down, for this mixture to filter in between all the roots, firm it gently, making sure the union of the tree is 5 cm above the finished soil level.
8) Apply a mulch of wet hay or straw, or better still well rotted manure around the trunk of the tree, without touching the stem, for an area of at least 1 square yard.
9) Remove all permanent grass and weeds in that area to start off with, for the tree to have the full benefit of the provisions you made.
10) In the spring, when the tree is beginning to show green, make sure your tree has the benefit of one watering can full of water, on a weekly basis, during its first year in your soil.
We receive many requests about tree size, and how it can be controlled. Tree size is also an important factor when choosing trees to plant in a mini-orchard, a garden, or in a pot on the patio. Here we provide some general background information on tree size, and some guidance on choosing the right type of tree when ordering (follow this link to reach the RealEnglishFruit tree variety page and order form).
It is mistaken to think that tree size can be controlled by pruning. The fundamental factor involved in determining tree size is the rootstock. Most fruit trees consist of two parts. The first is the “rootstock” or “stock,” which comprises the root system and the lower part of the stem, normally from soil level (the so-called “nursery mark”) to about 15 cm above the ground. The second is the “scion” which comprises the rest of the stem and the branches, and so it is this part that bears the fruit. Trees are created by grafting a tree variety – say Cox apple or Victoria plum – onto a rootstock, usually when scion and rootstock have a stem diameter of 8-10 mm.
This system is adopted to control the size of the tree and to improve cropping. So, for example, for apples, the rootstock named MM106 gives rise to a tree reaching a height of about 12 feet, while M26, M9 and M27 produce progressively smaller trees. M27 and M9 are therefore known as “dwarfing rootstocks.” The effect of rootstock is very marked on apples, less so on plums and pears. Another fact to remember is that the size of a tree at the time of planting does not affect the size eventually achieved. Likewise, the height of the tree at the time of planting has no effect on when the tree comes into production.
Other factors are involved in determining the height of a tree at maturity. These include type of soil, height of the location above sea level, exposure to cold winds or frost pockets, and the winter rest level of water in the soil. Equally important is tree spacing. The further trees are spaced apart, the greater their final height will be.
To help you planning your mini-orchard, here are some recommended planting distances, with a very approximate guide figure for final tree height (say 5 years after planting), for different fruit varieties:
||Final tree height
||Final tree height
||Final tree height
||Final tree height
|Peach, apricot, nectarine
||Final tree height
You may ask, why can’t we be specific about planting distance? Why 8-12 feet and not, say, 10 feet? This is due to the many factors involved. Apart from the rootstock used, the variety of fruit, the depth of the soil, the available light and moisture throughout the growing season, all will influence the crop load and therefore the size of the tree. A heavy cropping tree will put on less new growth (extension growth) compared with a light-cropping tree. As an example of variety difference, Bramley’s Seedling makes a larger tree than, say, James Grieve. Trees grown on deep, water-retentive soil become larger than trees on drier or shallow soils. Trees grown in the shade crop less, and so tend to get larger than trees growing in sunshine. Fruit trees which go short of moisture during the summer months stop growing earlier each year, and will make shorter shoot extension growth. Fruit trees which are poorly pollinated will produce less fruit and therefore the annual extension growth will be much greater.
Finally there is the influence of the tree’s overall health, the site, microclimate, grass, weeds around the tree, depth of planting, nutrition, type of pruning, and the season in which pruning is performed. In fact, late summer pruning (in late July and August) tends to reduce the rate at which a tree will grow, whereas traditional winter pruning (November-March) produces strong regrowth of long new shoots.
So it’s a complicated equation, but it is one for which we are always available to give guidance and advice when you are ordering your orchard pack.
One rule of thumb that always applies is: if you have room, give the trees as much space as possible, so at the top end of the space range as detailed above. This gives them the chance to develop a fine tree canopy.
Let’s return to apples for a moment, because this is the fruit for which there are most rootstocks. We can safely say that MM106 is by far the best and most robust stock for a mini-orchard, and so they are the best choice for inclusion in our Standard Orchard Pack and Multi-fruit orchard pack. In addition, MM106 is suitable for all soils. At the other end of the scale, the dwarfing stock M27 is suitable for growing in a pot on the patio. If you have limited space, you may prefer one of the dwarfing varieties, but it is important to remember that M26, M9 and M27 require lots of attention, and water in the summer. M27 in particular is good for a patio or pot, but it has to be watered twice a week in summer. M26 and M9 are good for small gardens with limited space. They need a stake throughout the life of the trees, and extra water in summer.
For successful apple tree growing, then, MM106 is the best choice. It has proved itself over many years; it forms a healthy tree which fruits at a young age. MM106 is suitable for all soils, including heavy clay soils, provided the soil is not waterlogged.
Fruit tree development – The Free-Standing Tree
A fruit tree consists of a rootstock, onto which is grafted the variety of fruit. The best rootstock for the average garden is MM106, but if space is limited, EMLA 9 may be more suitable. In fact the rootstock determines the final tree size.
It should be remembered that different fruit varieties generate differing tree shapes. For example, apple trees are naturally more spreading, while pears and plums tend to be more vertical in their growth.
First year after planting
Fruit tree development, year 1
If the tree has been properly planted, and grass and weeds are kept at bay in the area in which tree roots are trying to become established, new shoot growth should appear during the summer months (the tree will have been planted during dormancy, from December to March). This new shoot growth is the material available to form the tree’s permanent framework as shown in the diagram. Shoots 1, 2 and 3 are new shoots. Shoots 4 and 5 are those already present on a 2-year old tree when planted.
At this early stage, pruning should be absolutely minimal, because pruning delays cropping. Minimal pruning is recommended for years 1, 2 and 3 after planting.
Second year after planting
Fruit tree development, year 2
These operations should be carried out in the period from December to March. Branches 1, 3 and 6 in the diagram should be tied down and spaced out using string running from the base of the stake.
The leading branch 2 should be left upright. Branches 4 and 5 are tied down almost flat, and they will become the first cropping wood.
Framework branches 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 should be pruned only if growth has been weak. In this case, they should be cut back by a third of their length.
The central leader should be pruned so that it is no higher than the length of a secatur above the average height of all the upright branches.
Third year after planting
Fruit tree development, year 3
As shown in the diagram, continue to build the crown of the tree by spacing the branches for maximum light utilization, again by tying down branches. The tree will now be cropping.
Espalier training: information and tips
The espalier is a useful method of training fruit trees, and it is becoming increasingly popular in the garden because it is ideal for positions adjacent to a wall or a fence, and occupies a minimum space. It can also be used as an attractive separation or screen between different parts of a garden.
In the espalier system, the tree comprises a central stem and horizontal fruiting branches. It is very important to train the tree correctly in order to achieve a tree that produces good fruit on all the horizontal branches for the next 20 years or so. The points set out below are the fundamental principles that should be followed to achieve that objective.
Do not train the branches – bringing them down to a near horizontal position – until the sap in the tree is running vigorously. This means that training can be performed from around mid-May.
Espalier, year 1
In the first year of training, you will form the first tier of the espalier, and therefore you will create a tree with three branches: the two side branches, and the upward leading branch. In mid-May, tie the two lower side branches to an angle of about 60 degrees (from the horizontal). At this stage, you can remove all other competing branches from the tree, so that growth will be concentrated in the three branches you need (fig. 4).
Wait until the second week of August, and only then, lower the two side branches to the horizontal. This delay in timing is very important. If you lower the branches to the horizontal position too early in the growing season, the upright vertical leading branch will absorb all the nutrients and the first tier of the espalier will be too weak in future years.
During the last week of August, remove all surplus upright growth from the espalier frame work. Then cut a notch in the upright branch above the first horizontal tier, at a height corresponding to where you would like the next tier to be formed the following year. This is usually about 18 inches above the first tier. The depth of the notch should be about a third of the thickness of the upright branch. It stimulates the tree to produce branches at exactly that point.
Espalier, year 2
The following year, build the next layer of the espalier, following the same routine as the previous year (fig. 5). Prune in Spring as shown in fig. 6.
Espalier, year 3
The following August, establish the final tier of the espalier, selecting two branches and training down to a 90 degree angle (fig. 7).
Espalier, year 4
The tree should be fertilized with a tree feed such as “Growmore”, following the instructions on the package. Spread the product evenly over an area of 3 square feet around the trunk.
During the growing season (May-October), keep the area under the tree canopy free from weeds, and from grass in particular.
Only prune in the winter once the tree is in full production and therefore is in need of spur replacement.
A common mistake, and one that can have serious consequences, is forcing the tree to grow upwards too quickly, without giving enough time to properly establish the lower limbs of the espalier. The most useful espalier which requires least maintenance in later years, is a tree in which the diameter of the lower arms are of double thickness compared to the top arms of the espalier. Good quality fruit is then produced at all levels of the espalier, and not just on the top layer.
This can be achieved by means of skilful pruning, bearing in mind that shoots in an upright position always grow more strongly than more horizontal ones.
Follow this link to order apple varieties suitable for espaliered trees. These include:
James Grieve, Lord Lambourne, Greensleeves, Laxton Fortune, Ashmead Kernel, Peasgood Nonsuch, Rubinette, Egremont Russet, Blenheim Orange, Red Pippin and many others.
Fan Training for Morello Cherries, Plums, Peaches, Nectarines and Apricots
Stone fruit trees – those mentioned in the title – are often more suited to fan training than espalier or open bush patterns. This to a degree depends on the vigour of the trees and the place where they are going to be planted.
The fan is really a variation on the espalier, except that instead of being held horizontally, branches are trained into a flat fan shape, with two main branches growing outwards at 45°. This angle makes it easier to control growth, when compared with the espalier. In addition, over a number of years the number of branches in the fan can reach from 8 to 10, ensuring good light penetration into the tree structure.
Fan tree, year 1
If the tree you are using is a one-year old tree, cut it back to 15 inches above soil level. This should be done in February/March. Remember to seal the pruning cuts with a sealing compound to prevent infection by the spores carrying various tree diseases.
In early June (see fig. 8), select two strong growing shoots, close to the tip of the tree, and tie them to canes set at an angle of 45 degrees. Remove all other shoots. Always use bio-degradable tying materials, to prevent the risk of the ties growing in and strangling the two selected branches. As the two branches develop further during the growing season, tie them again along the upper part of the bamboo canes.
Fan tree, year 2
If the two trained branches have grown well, in the following February, cut both branches back to twelve inches from the point where they started to grow last February (fig.9). This will provide in total 10 buds, which we will now use to develop the main frame of the fan shape. New shoots will start to grow from these buds. Select four shoots on each side of the fan and tie them again on bamboo canes set out in such a way that they fill the fan space over the 180-degree arching area available (see fig. 10 below). However, leave the centre of the fan unoccupied, in order to maintain good growth in the basic framework.
Fan tree, final configuration
Once this has been successfully completed, cropping will follow, mainly on one year-old wood.
Once that wood has carried a crop, it needs to be cut out to make room for the new one year-old wood.
The best time to do this is not during the winter months, but immediately after the crop has been picked.
If any sub laterals develop, cut them back to 3 to 4 inches, if there is room available.
The cordon system of tree training
Where space is limited, most apples and some pear varieties are suitable to be trained as cordons. A cordon is a tree planted at an angle of 45 degrees, supported and trained along a fence or a wall. Along the wall or fence, horizontal wires are positioned at a height of two, four and six feet. A six-foot bamboo cane is fastened to the wires at a 45-degree angle, at two-foot intervals. These trees are based on the maintenance and supply of short laterals along the main stem of the tree. The first laterals should be in place at approximately 40 cm above soil level. It is essential that the union of the tree is 1.5 to 2 inches above the soil level. For very deep and fertile soils, the M9 rootstock is suitable. However for most situations, M26 is the best rootstock for a cordon tree. On very hungry soils, it might be possible to use the stronger stock MM106 to good effect.
Plant the trees 60 cm apart after having made very sure the soil does not lay wet during the winter or summer months. If drainage is faulty, the trees will suffer badly from tree canker. As a result, the life of the tree is short and the fruit will have a short shelf life. It is also essential that the soil is well prepared in advance, during September and October, while the soil is still warm and friable. Dig over, for each tree, an area of at least 60 x 60 cm. Before you add the essential organic matter such as well rotted farmyard manure to the soil, make sure that the subsoil is well loosened with a rigid tine fork, so that water can always drain away quickly. Tree roots need lots of oxygen and where water is standing around the roots, oxygen is not available. The trees literally suffocate, if this is not corrected!
Summer pruning is essential to ensure that the tree stays within the limited space available.
Pruning must not be carried out during the late autumn or winter months. The cordon tree performs best when pruned during the summer months. The first pruning should be performed by the middle of July in the south of England. For the middle and north of England, start pruning seven to ten days later. Cut all the newly-formed shoots back to five leaves lengths. One newly-formed shoot per growth point is enough. When doubles occur, bring them back to single shoots. By the middle of September, cut the same shoots back to three-leaf lengths. As sub-laterals are formed in later years, cut these back to one leaf lengths. The aim is to create strong fruit buds on two to three-year old wood, as well as spurs. These well-budded-up lengths of wood can be up to nine inches long. Leave these lengths of wood intact as fruit buds will have formed along these two-year old shoots. Some varieties will produce fruit on one-year old wood. All the same, in order not to exhaust the trees, it is best to halve these shoots by the first week of June. Thin the fruits to one fruit per cluster. The fruits will have to be spaced six inches apart to form good-sized fruits.
When the cordon has reached the top wire, it is important to make sure that all new growth does not occur at the top of the tree only. To that effect, lower the complete cordon, initially to a 40-degree angle. In later years, it is possible to lower it to the final angle of 35 degrees. As the trees become older, thin out the fruit spurs and encourage new replacement wood to form in its place.
Growing stepover trees
There are certain apple varieties which can be used to plant along the edge of a bed, or next to a path. The trunk of the apple tree runs horizontally at something like 8 inches above soil level. The formation of this tree form can be done in various ways. However the most important requirement is that the formation pruning is never carried out during the winter months when the trees are dormant. Various stages of summer pruning are carried out, in order to encourage formation of fruit buds all along the main stem. Secondly, ideally, moderate new growth needs to occur along the whole length of the stem. Depending on the soil depth and soil quality, the rootstock suitable for these types of trees are M9 and M26. Tip bearing varieties are not suitable, nor are very vigorous varieties. Spur type varieties are the most useful ones to use for this type of tree.
Good results have been achieved by the use of the following varieties: James Grieve, Katy, Greensleeves, Egremont Russet, Lord Lambourne, Ellisons Orange, Sunset, Pixie, Red Pippin, Red Falstaff and Royal Gala.
Ideally the two newly-formed main branches should be of the same thickness and the same length. This can be achieved by pruning the tree back, after it has been planted, at a height of approx. 10 inches. Of the new growth appearing in the early summer months, two shoots running parallel with the edge of the bed, need to be selected and the remaining shoots rubbed out, early during the growing season, early in June. These two shoots should be left to grow, uncut, but gradually lowered to a final horizontal position by the end of September.
The following season one will see new growth appearing all along the horizontal branches. It is very important to pinch out the growing tips of the newly forming shoots as soon as 6 inches of length has been established. By the middle of July these shoots are cut back again to 4 inches. New growth will occur again. The shoots are now cut back again, by the middle of September to 2 inches in length. All being well, fruit buds have now been formed along the base of the main horizontal stem.
The trick is to make sure these fruit buds set fruit the following season. This can be achieved by making sure good cross pollination occurs every new season. For that reason two compatible diploid varieties need to be planted The stepover trees should be planted approximately 5 to 6 feet apart, depending on the quality of the soil and the rootstock used.
There is another method of growing stepover trees. I have often seen heavily laden mature fruit trees that have been blown over by strong gales, level to the ground. As long as 10% of the roots are still undamaged, these trees may start a new life, with the trunk actually lying on the ground. This knowledge can be used with good effect for the construction of stepover trees. As long as trees are well watered and fed, sizeable containers can be used, from which two young maiden trees can be planted, WITHOUT HAVING TO CUT BACK THE TREES. It is essential that these containers have large sized drainage holes from which new roots can find their way into the soil. Often the new shoot growth occurring along the full length of these trees, is easier to control, compared with the treatment of the trees as outlined above.
The development of stepover trees
If you are looking for the page at which you can view available tree varieties, place a provisional order and provide further information on your tree requirements and planting site, just follow this link.
Growing and training apricots
The apricot that we have grown
Talking from practical experience, as well as from our own current garden Apricot;
1) It is a great delight to grow it and look after it. It is a very amenable type of fruit and easy to grow.
2) It has to be on a South-facing wall, and the planting hole needs to be thoroughly prepared. Use John Innes tree planting compost and make sure the tree is not subject to a leak in the a gutter.
3) Use large-size shelf brackets above the apricot tree and construct a wooden shelf. Use this to fasten a double layer of fleece each year around the second week of February. Cover at that moment the entire tree, and make sure the wind cannot blow it off at any time. It has to stay in position until the end of May. Lift the fleece during the day only, when the tree is in flower, sp that pollinating insects can carry out their work. All this is necessary because the Apricot is very sensitive to frost. In addition, until leaf starts to develop, it is sensitive to “peach leaf curl” and bacterial canker. The great thing about apricot growing is that you do not need to use any chemicals, if you protect the tree as outlined above.
4) The tree loves organic matter around its base, but not touching the trunk. It hates the grass around its base, so mulch the tree well, to keep grass and weeds away from it.
5) Never let the tree struggle for moisture, and thin the young fruitlets when the size of a large pea, spacing them to at least 4 to 5 inches apart.
6) It will need a space of approx. 6 to 7 metre wall length. This length can be shorter, but in this case, more summer pruning is necessary. NEVER prune it during the winter months, but always when there is a full canopy of leaves. Pick the fruit when turning yellow in August. At this stage, flavour will have developed well.
Leaves and fruit of our apricot
Apricot Fan Training process
February/March of the first year
Start with 2 side branches
Cut these back by about 2 inches. Remove all other growth. (March)
Promote strong growth. (Water, nutrients, warmth).
Seal all fresh pruning cuts with “Heal and Seal” compound. (This protects against bacterial canker)
Select 2 shoots on either side
Tie in with bamboo canes at 45 degree angles
Cut the original side branches and the extra 4, back by about a third of their length,
Continue to feed well (slow release fertiliser, Osmacote or the equivalent)
February/March of the second year
Select the final 2 branches,
Carry out the same procedure as in the first year
From then onwards
After cropping, cut out the wood that carried a crop (i.e. in August). Tie in new canes to replace the wood that carried fruit.
Apricot crops best on younger wood.
Never prune plums, cherries, apricots, peach and nectarine during the winter months but ALWAYS as soon as you have picked the crop. This helps to avoid disease from developing.
Detail of the leaves and fruit
Pruning and tree care
MOT, Ministry of Trees? Talking about parts and service!
The whys and wherefores of fruit trees
In my experience, most people have their car serviced twice a year. The average life time of a car is no more than 7 years. A fruit tree has an average life of 28 years. That is 4 times as long. And yet many people plant a tree and then forget about servicing the poor tree! By that I mean a fruit tree also needs to be serviced at least twice a year. Just the same as your car.
But then most people say, “Well what am I supposed to do?” I hope that the topic of fruit tree care and the elementary principles on which fruit tree care should be based will become clearer by reading the material on this page (which is being gradually developed). This will particularly apply to trees grown in Northern Europe. Warmer climates changes things for trees substantially, and several other points need to be taken in consideration. All in all, fruit trees are very responsive to the care and attention given. The result will be regular crops of reasonable quality, without having to resort to genetic manipulation or extensive use of chemicals. That is my experience gained over many years.
Top Ten Tips on caring for fruit trees
The fundamental thing to remember is that even though trees don’t talk or run around, they are living organisms and highly responsive to human beings. Regular visits to the trees are important, not least because in this way one can develop an understanding about the tree’s needs and behavior. One can then respond in the right manner to achieve good results in terms of growth and fertility. Trees that are well looked after will live much longer than us! Try to understand the tree’s needs by frequent visits, and all will be well.
I would like to mention two facts that are so important that I prefer to mention them even before the “top ten”. Firstly, any newly-planted tree should have a rabbit guard to protect the trunk from damage caused by hares and rabbits, but also by cats and dogs. The type of guard depends on the wildlife you have in your area. Secondly, the very best way to ensure that the trees get a really good start is to give each tree one or two full watering cans each week, right through the growing season, in other words from April to mid-September.
Top Ten Tips
1) Do not plant an oldish or so-called “mature” tree, as you may be starting off with lots of problems. Plant a healthy 2 to 3-year old tree, and cropping will start the year after planting in the case of apples, peaches and apricots. Pears, plums and cherries will take another one or two years to start cropping.
2) Fruit trees are like youngsters; give them room to stretch out and grow, when they are young. Cropping will follow sooner then you think.
3) Make sure the trees have full light. That’s their source of energy. Shade always reduces cropping.
4) The soil has to be the best. The soil is the tree’s home. A tree likes its soil to be well aerated and full of nutrients.
5) Make sure that the soil and subsoil are never waterlogged, particularly in winter. Stagnant water is a death sentence for a fruit tree.
6) From April to September, water weekly, when the trees are young. 10 to 15 litres per week is a minimum. More in hot periods.
7) During the growing season, take note of the leaves. If they are deep green, the tree is happy. If they are a different colour, the tree is telling you something and needs your help.
8) Only transplant trees from December to March. This is the period of dormancy.
9) Keep one square metre of soil around the trunk totally free from grass and weeds. This solves many fruit growing problems.
10) When you think that picking time is near, taste the fruit. If you like the flavour, pick the fruit gently, without bruising it, and store it in a cool dark place at a temperature as close to 3° Celsius as possible. A second-hand fridge is ideal for storing all fruits.
How to get fruit trees into production sooner
Earlier fruiting is a common goal
Many people would understandably like their trees to start producting fruit as soon as possible. A tree left to its own devices tends to grow wood instead of fruit over the first four years. This is understandable: the tree wants to create a firm structure before hanging lots of heavy fruit on it! This gives us a clue as how to proceed. First, get the tree growing as soon as possible. Second, don’t prune the young shoots, in order to encourage the formation of fruit buds. Third, encourage auxin production by the root system. Let’s look at these in more detail.
We want the trees to achieve strong growth within months after planting, instead of years after planting. To promote strong growth early on, the tree should be planted in fresh soil, nutritionally well balanced and of a sandy loam nature with strong water holding capabilities.
Interestingly, practical experience has shown that if trees are well supported, by a tall enough stake and/or interconnecting wires, the trees will crop significantly earlier. It’s as if the tree “senses” the degree of flexion of its branches and “decides” that the structure is strong enough to start fruiting.
To develop tree structure in its early years, pruning must be kept to an absolute minimum in years 1, 2 and 3 after planting. Tree formation is therefore carried out with the aid of stakes and wires instead of a secateur. By not cutting into the young shoots, the formation of strong fruit buds will follow. All we have to do is to tie the newly formed cropping wood into a near horizontal position onto the wires, during the month of August. Cropping will start the following year.
Obviously we have to aim to create the correct structure for the tree. This should be the form of a pyramid, in order to fully utilize the available light. Therefore at all times we have to maintain a leading central shoot, which initiate the pyramid structure. However, we can work on structure while the tree is cropping. This is the critical difference with respect to standard procedure. In the old days, one pruned during the first four years of the life of the trees, in order to manufacture a tree frame work. This stage was called the “tree formation stage”. Nowadays the emphasis is on early production and therefore minimal pruning.
Pruning is therefore necessary in order to secure a decent frame work, but it should be minimal. This pruning must never be carried out in spring at the start of the growing season. Carry out all your essential pruning when the fruit buds have already been formed. This is at the end of the growing season. The month of August and early September is ideal for this purpose. But not later!!
As mentioned above, the root systems of fruit trees will produce high levels of growth-promoting auxins, if the rooting environment, the soil, is conducive to this effect.
Treatment for poorly cropping plums and pears
It may sound drastic, but poorly-cropping plum trees often react very favourably to treatment as set out below. This method must be seen as a last resort. Obviously improving micro climate and pollination are absolutely essential as methods to be tried first.
Consistently poorly cropping plum/greengage trees:
1) first week of June: remove growth points of strongly growing new shoots.
2) first week of July: cut back to five-leaf stage and remove growth points.
3) first week of August: cut out small surplus branches.
4) first week of September: cut tree back, ready for lifting. Seal wounds
5) When leaf fall is complete: lift tree, cut roots and plant back in the same hole. Stake and tie the tree to stop rocking movements while roots regrow.
Poorly cropping pear trees
1) Remove growth points as above.
2) First week of September: carry out summer pruning programme.
3) Do not prune during the winter months.
Reasons for poor cropping of fruit trees
1) Spring frost damage.
2) Too much winter pruning, causing lack of fruitbud formation.
3) Pigeon damage.
4) Lack of pollinating insects.
5) Poor light due to overcrowding.
6) Excessive nitrogen levels due to nutritional ill balance
7) Too cold during flowering time; as a result flowers abort and fruit set fails to materialize.
Which varieties to plant
Variety choice; eating, cooking, juicing, slicing, baking, cider making
If you are planning to have your own orchard, or just a few trees in the garden, the question arises of which variety of fruit to plant. The most reliable trees from the cropping point of view are apples. Secondly you may then ask yourself, which apple variety suits me best. Which type of apple will be liked by the children and which apple does grandma prefer? I don’t want all the apples to ripen at the same time. So how do I set about making the right choice? We are specialists and are very happy to guide you. In the end it all comes down to a few elementary principles.
1) All apples, picked when mature, will become sweet. Some are by nature sweet when it is harvest time. Others have a degree of sharpness at harvest time and will retain their sharpness longer. Therefore if you plant more than one tree, it is best to choose different varieties. In that way your fruit will not all ripen at the same time. At harvest time, all apples are crisp. However the late maturing apples keep their crispness the longest.
2) All apples will cook. However some apples are better suited than others. The same applies to baking and apples used for slicing. Some apples will retain their shape when baked, others go to mush. Just indicate the characteristics you are looking and we will tell you.
3) The best apples for keeping are the late maturing apples, picked in October, some even in November, particularly the smaller sized apples. However, always keep them in a dark place, which should be the coolest possible. The ideal temperature at which to keep apples is around 3 degrees Celsius.
4) Humidity around apples is important to reduce shrivelling. When you store your apples, cover them loosely with plastic, for example an open plastic bag.
5) If you have the room, store the fruit in single layers. This will reduce the spread of rotting from one apple to another.
6) Finally if you lack the space, then keep the apples in the bottom of your fridge as soon as you have picked them.
Click here to visit the Tree Variety page our website, where you can place a provisional order for trees
Hazel catkins, photo courtesy sxc.hu
Growing and planting hazelnuts
In winter, the first signs of life of the new growing season can often be seen in hedgerows, exactly at this time of the year, when the catkins of hazel nut trees are beginning to appear.
These developing male catkins are shedding their yellow pollen in the wind. The female flowers, which, lke the catkins, also appear on last year’s wood, are much smaller and reddish in colour. Cross fertilisation is essential in order to achieve fruit set. If you have a few hazels in your garden – cultivated hazelnuts are also called cobnuts or filberts – it is therefore very important not to start pruning too early, so that you give time for the male catkins to do their job. March is therefore the best month for pruning. The objective of pruning is to achieve a general thinning of those branches that are too close one to another, and the removal of very strong surplus shoots.
If you would like to plant new cobnuts, the best time is February. You should plant at least 2 different varieties. Trees should be spaced anything from 7 to 10 feet apart, depending on soil depth and quality. Cobnuts are usually ready to harvest around St. Philibert’s Day, which is the 20th of August (and this is the reason why hazel nuts are sometimes called filberts!).
Regarding the site, good drainage and a sunny aspect are a real help. Rich soil should be avoided, as this tends to produce excessive growth. As flowering takes place during February, some shelter from north and north-east winds is a help to achieve regular fruit set.
The British cooking apple
The value of cooking apples is greatly underestimated. There is no dispute that by and large we do appreciate the specific flavours of the traditional eating apples. There is always a place to be found in the garden, however large or small, for a good eating apple, particularly if it has, apart from a good flavour, good keeping qualities. Due to mass production and the fact that it may have been transported from far and wide, the flavour of supermarket fruit is always suspect. It is good to see that many people have started to plant young fruit trees in their own gardens.
But what about cooking apples? At this time of the year, during all the cold winter months, over the centuries it has been recognized by many chefs and people who love to cook, that the sharpness of a good cooking apple makes a great addition for various dishes, warm or cold, which otherwise would be too sweet on their own. Years gone by, cooking apples were transported from all over the country to London, as their taste and flavour were greatly appreciated by top London restaurants. Take for example Norfolk Beefing, a splendid flavoursome apple: the price paid for these apples was the highest during the winter months. Then there is Dr. Harvey, a long-lasting good winter cooking apple from Suffolk. In fact many counties championed their own cooking apple as the best of the lot. I will be writing about a a fair number of cooking apples, which all are splendid, each in its own way. Of course, Bramley is well known and is in no danger of fading away. However it is a real pity that supermarket culture has led us to believe that a good cooking apple needs to be green. This is way off the mark, as many excellent cooking apples are coloured. Even Bramley! The real Suffolk Bramley has a good deal of colour on its cheeks.
When you think of planting some apple trees in your garden, do give some thought to planting a good cooking apple that keeps well. It will be particularly useful to you during the winter months. I can recommend the following from experience:
Lane Prince Albert
Sops in Wine
What to watch out for during the growing season
Is it difficult to look after a five tree multi fruit orchard?
The rewards of a well-tended orchard
“Is it difficult to look after a five tree multi fruit orchard?”
This question is asked very often. The answer is NO, it is not difficult, not really. But like all living plants and creatures, it is a great help to be willing to try to understand, what it is that make trees tick. Why do trees behave in certain ways and what is it we can do to make life comfortable for trees, or at least tolerable to cope successfully when things go astray or are threatening to go belly up? This means it is important to revisit your trees at regular intervals and look at the way the tree is presenting itself to you. If, for example, the newly formed leaves at the end of the growing shoots are rolled up or curled up, the tree is very likely trying to defend itself against an intruder such as a colony of aphids. Or, another example, when leaf drop is occurring, it may be that the tree is crying out for water. Or, when the bark of the tree has changed colour from a healthy brown to deep red, this is very likely a sign that the tree is suffocating due to lack of oxygen near its growing roots, due to impeded drainage.
These are only a few examples, but as time goes by, you will begin to see the signs of stress or the first symptoms of some sort of disease, at an early stage. Most of the time you can do something to help the tree to get over its trouble. Usually you will have time to act. Trees are long-living plants and therefore have learned to cope with afflictions. However as you also like to harvest some tasty fruits, it is wise to minimize negative influences, if the problem the tree is coping with needs a helping hand. Biologically there are often lots of predators around, which will minimize the need to interfere. If, however, the number of certain harmful insects are too great, then without the use of artificial chemicals, most of the time, the situation can be brought under control, without any ill effect.
Summarizing, having your own multi fruit orchard is a wonderful source of good food and of great interest apart from supplying you with truly delicious home grown fruits. Like kids, they do appreciate attention at regular intervals, and as such repay you many times over.
Orchard work calendar
Orchard work, late March
We have reached the end of March. Frosty nights are occurring quite frequently. It is therefore essential to protect the blossoms of early flowering fruit trees such as Apricots, Peaches and fruit trees planted on south-facing walls. The best way to do this is to use a double layer of garden fleece firmly secured to branches with strong cloth pegs. If the trees are too big to protect as a whole, then protect branches that are well-laden with blossom on their own. After all, it is better to have some fruit, compared with none at all. Make sure the bees and pollinating insects can find entry routes on the side, so that they can visit the flowers. If insects are absent, aid pollination with a soft haired paint brush, when the flowers are fully open. Gently stroking will do the trick.
Secondly, if you want to graft over some poorly cropping trees, now is the time to do it. Use fully dormant, one year old grafting wood. This is fully matured wood which was grown last year. Use 6-inch pieces of wood and make sure that cambium is fitted to cambium. Secure with raffia or strong tape. Make sure all air is excluded, so that the wounds in contact can grow together. To ensure this, use grafting wax or strong adhesive tape.
Lastly, all planting of bare root fruit trees has now come to an end. It is essential to make sure that late-planted fruit trees do not dry out. Around the tree trunks, place mulch mats of at least 3 foot square. Use a mulch of wet straw, hay or well rotted compost or manure, to fully cover the mulch mats. Keep the tree roots well watered on a weekly basis.
If you haven’t done it already, do make sure autumn cropping raspberries are cut back to ground level. Summer cropping raspberries need to be pruned differently. Cut out all last year’s cropping wood, but leave in last year’s newly-formed shoots. Space the shoots 3 to 4 inches apart and securely tie them along a wire strained between posts along the row.
Dig out docks and stinging nettles along the row, before these weeds become too powerful. Having done that, apply a 4-inches-deep mulch of wet hay or straw along the row, if the soil is drought-sensitive. Water frequently during long dry/warm spells in order to keep the root systems fully active.
Other fruity subjects
The ripening process of pears
When one goes to the supermarket and buys some pears, usually the pears are still firm and even hard depending on the variety. What is not generally known is that a lot has been done already, before these pears were offered for sale, to make sure that the pears will ripen properly when taken home. To start off with, there many different pear varieties. Basically there are some pear varieties which have to be picked earlier than others. Take, for example, Williams pears or Beth pears: by nature these are the earliest to mature. Now these pears will have to be picked when they are not fully mature. If they are left to ripen on the trees, usually the juiciness and flavour is disappointing. Then there are late maturing pears which in this country fail to mature on the trees. So, in order not to complicate the issue further, what is the best practice for someone who has a couple of pear trees and a good crop, and would like to have the pleasure of eating a wonderful juicy pear, grown in their own garden? In addition, for pears grown in a garden, it’s nice to be able to spread their maturing out, as it would be impossible to eat them all in one go.
The answer to these questions may come as a surprise. First, you can control pear ripening by picking them when they are still hard and then keeping them in the fridge. Keeping them in the refrigerator for a few days actually improves their ripening when you take them out.
So this is the process: pick the pears when they are ready but still hard. How do you know when to start picking? Assuming you have watered your trees weekly and good fruit size has been achieved, then the following test is useful; lift the pear gently and when it comes away naturally, the stalk breaking easily, then the optimum picking time has been reached. When picking, do make sure that the pears are handled like eggs. Any bruising translates into early rotting. Then put the pears into the bottom of the fridge without delay. Keeping them in the dark for several days at a temperature close to 1 degree Celsius ensures even fruit ripening later on. From then on, you can take two or three pears out of the fridge and leave the others in the fridge. The ones left in the fridge stay hard, while the ones put in the fruit bowl in the living room will start to soften quite quickly. Feel the fruit near the stalk end and press gently to see how soft it is. If it has softened at that particular spot, the pear is ready to eat.